Daryl Brown: My Mother Holding My Now Dead Cat

Walking into Daryl Brown’s new studio was like following the walls of a labyrinth until finally stepping into a room alive with organic structures that watched over the artist like protective sentinels.

Daryl Brown from his series, "My Mother Holding My Now Dead Cat"room alive with organic structures that watched over the artist like protective sentinels.

My observation caused a chuckle from the sculptor.  “They’re almost like a gang,” he responded.  “A bit threatening.”

It had been over a year since I’d first visited Brown in his studio back in Hackney.  On that day in August, he seemed gentle and unassuming.

Yet in his new studio in Stratford, Brown appeared to have taken on a new confidence.  His movements were relaxed as he circled his works talking about the process of their creation.

Pointing to one he remarked, “This one is unfinished.  It’s really tricky.  I’ve always felt quite weird about it.  I’m often tempted to destroy things, rebel against them.”

My Mother Holding My Now Dead Cat

Brown’s sculptures are part of a theme that has been a reoccurring vision of the artist.  The first sculpture of the series ‘My Mother and My Now Dead Cat’ was shown in The Magnificent Basement by ALISN, an organisation known for it’s inclusive support of artists in London.

Using a variety of materials, Brown has stayed true to his vision never wavering from the original theme, yet evolving this vision into the sentinels that stand in his studio today.

Upon looking at the sculptures, does the image of Brown’s mother holding his cat become apparent?  Each observer must decide that for themselves.

But what is immediately noticeable is the organic quality of the sculptures.  They each embody a life; an ironic factor since the

Daryl Brown from his series, "My Mother Holding My Now Dead Cat"

theme touches on death.

Binary Opposites

Whether or not the irony in Brown’s work is a conscious act on his part is something else the observer can determine.

For example, one can hardly think of the theme of the sculptures without noticing an element of both tragedy and comedy.

Brown himself describes his work as “gritty and urban”, yet the theme suggests something sentimental and sweet.

Together, the sculptures stand as ‘a gang’ and yet the artist who created them is soft spoken and non-threatening.

“I wanted to show a loving embrace and then destroy that,” says Brown.

Method

Brown’s method is as abstract as the sculptures themselves.

He seems to add components using a variety of materials.  Each sculpture can standalone because each is uniquely formed.

Some of them embody what could be viewed as chaos, perhaps an element of the death theme, with wires that give the sculpture a

Daryl Brown from his series, "My Mother Holding My Now Dead Cat"

more technical appearance.

Others are softer and white, like amorphous bodies.

And still there is a darker figure and even a colourful body that appears to have human organs, which supports the idea of life.

Yet, one cannot escape the fact that these are sculptures, no more alive than the materials that form them, the now proverbial ‘dead cat’.

This it what makes Brown such an interesting artist, the opposing views that are conveyed in his work.

Like his previous Judo series, the artist is interested in the human form, but also in the progression of his work.

“I don’t want to lose this image of my mother with the cat, but I am not bound by it.”

Brown’s work has caught the attention of several art organisations, including the London Art Fair 2012, which will take place from 18-22 January next year.

The artist’s work will also be exhibited at the Residence Gallery in Hackney from 2 February 2012.

True Wit: Curtis Eller Strikes Again

Curtis Eller just completed his tour through the UK and we are sad to see him go.

Eller during his tour through the UK

Nursing laryngitis while giving back-to-back performances in a different city every night, he draws from a seemingly overabundant sense of professionalism and talent.

Unstoppable, he rushes back to the stage to gulp down doses of honey in order to get through the next song.

He manages, through all of this, to elicit genuine laughter from the audience.  “Excuse me, but this is a little disgusting,” he exclaims, just before throwing his head back and dowsing his throat with honey from the bottle he squeezes into his mouth.

Then he’s back in the middle of the audience, belting out his best songs.

Not just another singer

Eller isn’t just a singer/songwriter/banjo player/yodeler (as if that isn’t enough).

Other than these impressive skills, he is also a bonafide comedian.

Singing a song about coal mining he stops mid-note to offer the audience another of his witticisms.

“I don’t know anything about coal mining, but you have to sing these kind of songs every once in a while in order to renew your banjo license.”

His humour may be one of the reasons why the artist is so popular amongst Brits, who undoubtedly appreciate Eller’s dry, irony so reminiscent of British comedy.

Curtis Eller at the Green Note in Camden, London

The show must go on

Eller stuck to old favourites that were easier on his aching throat.  But no one was disappointed, especially not his loyal fans who faithfully sang the chorus at Eller’s command.

Green Note is a small venue, but the intimacy of the place is perfect for performers like Eller whose interaction with the audience is such a delightful part of the show.

The audience laughed gleefully as he randomly blew out candles on tables, climbed atop chairs and chased waitresses and audience members while playing the banjo behind them.

Slightly ill, he may have been, but lacking in entertainment value Eller was not.  As energetic as ever, there was not a corner of Green Note the singer did not dance, run or play his way through.

Yet, behind the fun, it is almost impossible not to notice a sort of awareness of his own cultural identity.  Eller’s songs consistently remind us of the America that he sees, with all of its problems and promise.

Never failing to deliver, Curtis Eller also reminds his audience that though he is a performance artist, he is also a teacher.  And though the attendees of his class may be willing students, his lessons about “Robert Moses” and others acts as a reaffirmation of his hope that America may someday be a better place.

He ends the show as he begins, with another witty joke, a knowing shake of his head, his honey in one hand and his banjo in the other.

Musicing: Innovative Team Building

Team Building with 'Musicing'

Anyone who has spent a fair number of years working in Corporate London has, at least once, been dragged to a team building workshop.

Usually having to do with the squeezing of spongy balls or watching boring presentations that lead to equally boring questionnaires, the only upside to these tedious exercises is that it allows the attendee to get away from their desk for a few hours.

Enter Luke Crookes.  An accomplished Bassoon player, Crookes decided to use his social skills and musical knowledge to create ‘Musicing’, a team building company which promises that at the end of a workshop, the attendees – no matter how novice – will be able to play a musical instrument with their colleagues in a full orchestra.

Skeptical?  So was I.  So I decided to give Musicing a try.

Pilot workshop

On a Sunday afternoon, along with about 60 others, I attended Musicing’s pilot workshop.

Luke Crookes, CEO of Musicing - Photograph by Charlotte Medlicott

The attendees were asked to choose from a compelling array of instruments including the clarinet, violin, viola, guitar, a variety of brass and percussion instruments, vocals and best of all, the cello.

I’ve always loved the sound of a cello, but had never touched one.

I found myself excited by the prospect of producing even one solid note from the hour glass shaped wooden instrument that one of Crookes’ staff members handed to me.

With its glossy façade and weighty presence, I cradled it as if it were a newborn baby.

What’s great about a cello is that the sounds produced by its strings when stroked with a bow are so deliciously rich that one need not play well to sound interesting.

Still, playing as a group is a different thing entirely, and the job of every team builder is to get a group of people to create something vital together.

Musicing: The String Section

The mission

Crookes was on it.  The mission never alluded him, but the cleverness that he brought to this particular team building venture, which will perhaps deem his methods as more viable than normal exercises, turned out to be two important aspects.

First, Crookes maintained throughout the entire exercise that each of us brings something unique to the table.  Not a new concept, yet surprisingly effective when someone gives you the freedom to explore that possibility.

The staff members in charge of the cello players asked us to play with our eyes closed for a few moments.  We had been told what to do, but would not be able to see the hand signals that alerted us to the next step.

But this faith in our group caused an interesting shift in perspective and a measure of trust in our fellow novices that had a pleasant result.

Musicing: The Tuba

It caused us to listen to the other players to determine the next step – surely the point of any team building exercise.

Crookes reinforced this idea, at the end of the session, when we all jammed together and basically tried to add something to the ongoing rhythm that reverberated around us.

The second aspect of Crookes method that caused this experience to be unique is that though most of us were playing a particular instrument for the first time in our lives, there was never a moment during the exercise when we weren’t taken seriously.

We were entrusted with beautiful, and likely expensive, instruments.  We were given clear instructions about how to hold the instrument and play it properly.  Each section of the orchestra was treated as a vital part of the whole.

But most importantly, there were more than 20 staff members, actual orchestral players, who instructed us and played alongside us during the entire exercise.

This more than anything caused me to take my part very seriously.  And the better I played, the more focused I felt.  A staff member, who instructed the violinists, somewhat firmly pushed us to do better as if she expected that we could.

A feeling of confidence

When it was over, I walked out of the venue feeling confident.  As cliche as that may sound, it is ultimately logical once we factor in an inevitable truth: I left my house that morning barely aware of how to properly hold an instrument.  But by the time I returned, I had played the cello with an entire orchestra.

And although it is a sure bet that my playing was rubbish, I can now imagine taking lessons and one day giving myself countless hours of pleasure by playing regularly in the comfort of my own home.

The bigger picture for Musicing is that it’s recipients will likely feel creative drive and purpose with their fellow work colleagues.

It is not so farfetched to envision a group of employees from the Reporting team of a major corporation getting a natural boost by having an orchestral jam with the Risk and Assessment team.  It sort of put things in perspective when you’ve created something you can be proud of.

It will be interesting to see how many companies will be willing to take the leap. Although the past two decades has seen an increased interest in tapping into the creative or right hemisphere side of the brain, left hemisphere functions such as problem solving and language are still very much lauded in a corporate environment.

Still, there is a rising need for creativity through teamwork in order to come up with innovative ways to solve problems and to keep up with technological advancements.

This is where a team building method like Musicing has the potential to make a difference in corporate environments.  In the consistent atmosphere of mergers and lay-offs, and the poor economy, there is little opportunity for feelings of accomplishment in corporations.

Musicing may be a welcome respite and a useful learning tool for companies wishing to increase morale and stimulate teamwork.

If you’re interested in what Musicing can do for your team or company, contact Luke Crookes at lukecrookes@me.com

George H. Choat: A young actor’s positive approach

When George H. Choat sat down in front of me in a neighbourhood coffee shop, I knew that I was about to have an experience. 

If star quality does indeed exist, Choat has it in considerable abundance.

Twenty-seven years old, dark-haired and with a Brooklyn accent so distinct that I half expected Joe Pesci and Bobby De Niro to come join our table and buy drinks for the house, the young actor carries himself with a hefty amount of self-respect.

My questions about the struggles of a young NY-raised actor living in the competitive city of London bounced off of his chest as if they were bullets and he was Superman.

‘You could say there’s a certain amount of competition out there, but you have to focus on you.  I know and except that with massive action comes massive results. It’s counter-productive to focus on competition all the time.’

Choat finds the inspiration to do what he does through his great passion for the arts.  Having had utilised his skills musically for a while, he was told by friends and family that he had a proclivity for acting.  It wasn’t long before he made the decision to change direction.

Staying positive

As a young actor in London, Choat seems to have none of the angst or fear that others of his ilk are often inundated with. Instead, with piercing brown eyes and squared shoulders, he relayed the aspects of his life that allow him to maintain an incredible attitude of positivity and confidence.

His inspirations are not surprising. 

‘The day Michael Jackson died, the world came to a stop for a week.  It was a massive lost. He was the personification of doing something at its greatest level.’

Denzel Washington is also one of Choat’s most respected mentors because of the star’s respect for his craft.

‘He has such a good energy as an actor.  I find him such a great inspiration because in all of the roles that he has played, he studies the art deeply. He becomes emotionally involved with his characters.”

So much of the ‘good energy’ that Choat attributes to Washington is mirrored in the composed, intensity of Choat himself. Still, he doesn’t ignore the nuts and bolts of the acting business.

Choat thinks it’s important for an actor to look out for what’s new, like casting websites, so that it isn’t necessary to rely solely on an agent.  He also believes in the importance of surrounding himself with positive people.

‘Words are important and I believe that words have sometimes boosted people or held them back. In order to combat a negative environment, you have to develop positive habits.’

The young actor builds up his defenses with healthy eating, exercise and relaxation.  With an almost Zen-like quality, he seems ready for anything.  I have no doubt that the term ‘watch this space’ was created with people like Choat in mind.

To learn more about George H. Choat, click here.

ALISN: A resource for young artists

No one expects to leave university with an art degree and immediately land a place in a major gallery.

Anna Bleeker, Jordan Dalladay-Simpson & Iavor Lubomirov

In London, one of the most art-focused cities in the world, there are far more artists than opportunities.

Yet, through a combination of open-mindedness and insight, two artists were motivated to look outside of the art world for a little help.

Iavor Lubomirov and Jordan Dalladay-Simpson, frustrated with the political framework that had become a consistent part of the art world, began knocking on the doors of property developers.

“When you live in a difficult world, it’s easy to forget how much joy it can give a property developer to join in the journey,” said Dalladay-Simpson.  “In a way, a property developer is an artist too.”

ALISN was born

Their persistence paid off and ALISN inevitably was born.  ALISN, which stands for Artist-Led Initiatives Support Network, is an organisation, which focuses on arranging

Iavor Lubomirov's work with paper

exhibitions for students and recent graduates of art school.

This collaborative effort is non-profit and encourages a sense of community by focusing on the art and the artist.

“For us,” said Anna Bleeker, one of ALISN’s coordinators, “art is about getting together with friends.”

This is achieved mainly through the donating of a space by the owner of a property after and, even sometimes during, a refurbishment.

Lubomirov, who believes that there simply aren’t enough people creating opportunities outside of the art world, sees these donations and collaborative efforts as an essential part of the process.

“How do you continue as an artist and keep Bohemian principles?  There are many collectives around London, squat spaces, cafe’s… Exhibiting art does not necessarily mean being in a gallery.”

Stephanie Batiste's 'Light Fitting + Bulb'

An exhibition of paper

One of ALISN’s most recent efforts, was on 26 June, which showed the works of Stephanie Batiste and Lubomirov himself.

Lubomirov, working solely with paper, combined his knowledge of Mathematics with creative vision.  The precise detail in his works gives an added dimension and depth. The way the flat sheets are combined, forces the viewer to consider volume.

Stephanie Batiste's 'Radio + Plug Socket'

Batiste’s works are equally compelling.  Her three-dimensional models are so accurate that one of the visitors of the exhibition couldn’t understand why the light hanging from the ceiling wasn’t turned on, until someone explained to him that it was made entirely out of paper cards.

The exhibition was a testimony to the level of creativity and talent that exists amongst young artists in London.

This joint intellectual effort continues in upcoming exhibitions like Daryl Brown’s ‘The Judo Series’ at The Magnificent Basement located at 128 Farringdon Road on 24th July from 7:00pm to 9:30pm.

If you are an artist or someone interested in art and wish to meet other art enthusiasts, ALISN urges you to get in touch by visiting http://www.alisn.org

Nigel Kennedy’s Brand New Bag

If you haven’t heard of Nigel Kennedy, it is possible that you have been hiding under a rock.

Kennedy, an English violinist, has spent the past few decades embracing classical and jazz music and finding different ways to blend these two genre.

And if being a brilliant violinist wasn’t enough, he’s recently managed to put together his very own orchestra of young musicians, who are as comfortable playing jazz music as they are playing classical.

The Orchestra of Life debuted on the 29th of May to a packed audience at the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre in London.

The antics of Nigel Kennedy

The man himself was jovial, humourous and played the violin with ease.

Kennedy played with the audience, spoke in Polish and reminisced about the difficulties of his days as a busker and a student.

His orchestra, which spent the first part of the evening playing some of Bach’s most famous pieces like his Violin Concerto in E Major, didn’t break a sweat.

Perfectly named, The Orchestra of Life, kept up with Kennedy’s sweeping playful gestures as he kissed them, joked about their nicknames to the audience, and praised them consistently.  It became almost impossible not to want to be a part of their happy little family.

Yet, there were times when it seemed as if the orchestra’s ability to play some of Bach’s most complex pieces were the only reason the well-known compositions were chosen.  Nigel’s rendition of Bach’s works did not reverberate through the audience, chilling the blood.

It did, however, place The Orchestra of Life, as a serious contender in the world of classical music.

The dessert was better than the meal

Before the classical segment was over, the orchestra performed one of Kennedy’s composed works entitled ‘Hills of Saturn K’.

A mixture of jazz and classical music combined, its Birtwistlian influences were the perfect segue into the works of Duke Ellington.  And this more than anything else is where Nigel Kennedy’s Orchestra of Life’s talents really lay.

The improvisational nature of jazz fits Kennedy like a well-oiled glove.  If he seemed at ease with Bach’s pieces, Ellington’s works were surely at home in the strings, horns, percussion and ivory keys that elegantly payed homage to them on stage.

Tomasz Grzegorski pushed notes out of a clarinet in a way that could only be described as a close encounter of the third kind.  It was a communication where the rest of the orchestra responded with sometimes jungle beat awareness, and other times, with the stillness of a lake at dawn.

The tinkling of the ivories by Piotr Wyleżoł only added to this presummer night’s dream like a trickling waterfall.

In the hands of this young orchestra, Ellington’s music gained a new vitality.  The juxtaposed notes seemed to fly through the air and meet with an unlikely partner.

And when this vibrant, edgy sound wasn’t begging the audience to jump out of their seats to dance, the rich, tones of a Harlem Night club emerged from cellos and violins harmonising on stage.

It was the mix of two genre that seized this night.  It was, as Simon Cowell is so fond of saying, making something old, current and new.

Some members of the orchestra were as skilled as Kennedy and made the performance extraordinary.  Sonja Schebeck’s duet with Kennedy was moving and flawless.  Marimba and vibraphone player Orphy Robinson was on fire.  And violinist Lizzie Ball seemed born with a violin in her hand.

If this Southbank Centre debut is evidence of what’s in store from the Orchestra of Life, then they are definitely here to stay.

In the Hands of Palestinian Women

Media as a form of resistance and change is on the rise in Palestine.

The Barbican in London
gave a film festival showing the works of leading Palestinian women filmmakers this past week.

The short documentaries showed the struggle that exists for women within Palestinian communities.

Masarat, for example, is a film of four shorts produced by Shashat that gives an intimate account of the daily hardships of women and how they are overcoming them.

One of the four shorts is called Pomegranate Seeds, a story about real life women, who out of fear remain silent while being physically or sexually abused by the men in their families.

Another is Far from Loneliness, which depicts the difficult lives of female farmers as they struggle to hold onto their lands in order to survive.  The other two shorts, Samia and First Love, have equally compelling subjects.

Beside the Masarat shorts, the festival showcased two other films.  138 Pounds in my Pocket is about a young teacher named Hind Al Husseini, who took in orphans after the Deir Yassin massacre.   Thorns and Silk are about women, who work with a true sense of pride in positions usually associated with men.

All the films have portrayed, in one form or another, the difficult lives that women in Palestine live, whether because of the occupation or due to the mistreatment of women in general.

Yet, these depictions of Palestinian women in their solitary and seemingly endless pain is not without signs of hope.

For one, this project seems a labour of love from the ever resistant movement for change and liberation.

It seems that once a Palestinian woman overcomes her own circumstance, she doesn’t just walk away from a world that must be sometimes filled with overwhelming and painful memories.

Instead, she returns to uplift other women and provide them with the sense of empowerment that was, at one time, denied them.

These films are the culmination of that uprising.  They seek to educate rather than entertain.  They promise hope.

The theatre at the Barbican was sadly not filled to capacity.  And there certainly wasn’t enough women of other cultures represented in the auditorium seats.

Yet there is no doubt that video media as a form of communication will continue to expand for Palestine, filming shots right through the immense walls that seek to hide the ugly truth of its occupation and male-dominated oppression.

If the fate of Palestine is left in the hands of its women, then they shall – indeed – overcome.